The Oklahoma City Thunder have just three preseason games left and then they will begin their regular season Nov. 1 on the road vs. the San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder did not make any major changes this offseason and for the most part are returning the same core of players they had last season. The starters will be the same and James Harden and Nick Collison will be the two main contributors coming off the bench.
The Thunder still have some battles going on in the preseason to determine who makes the final roster. Who makes the team as the 15th man may not affect the rotation immediately but it could down the road.
Right now we know OKC will be returning the same starting group from last season in Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Harden and Collison will be the first two off the bench to round out the top seven.
Eric Maynor and Reggie Jackson are locks as backup point guards and Daequan Cook as well to make seven. Cole Aldrich has pretty much locked up the backup center spot for now too which puts the roster at 11. It’s pretty safe to assume that Perry Jones III will be suiting up when the season starts as the 12th man for the Thunder after such an impressive preseason already.
That leaves the final three spots to be handed out to either Lazar Hayward, Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, Hollis Thompson, Andy Rautins, DeAndre Liggins or Walker Russell.
Hayward is the only returner from this bunch and while he did not log many minutes last season, has a leg up on the competition at least somewhat because of this. Thabeet was kind of a big signing for the Thunder this offseason although they took him on knowing it would be a project. That probably means that he will be No. 14.
Liggins and Orton have gotten the most run this preseason of the rest of the guys and also looked the best. Liggins has looked like someone that would be a solid fit in the Thunder rotation as early as this season, and could even blossom into a viable replacement for Sefolosha if ever needed. Liggins is mainly lacking a 3-point shot which limits his value to the Thunder at this point.
Orton has also looked solid in the last few games. The former first round pick appears more ready to contribute right away then Thabeet. With the demand for size always being important, Orton may be a solid choice at No. 15 too.
Thompson, Rautins and Russell don’t have much of a chance at this point. The Thunder signed the undrafted rookie Thompson after the draft. Thompson has size, can shoot the three and defend but is still very young and raw at this point.
Spots 13-15 will probably end up being Hayward, Thabeet, Liggins.
As far as the rotation goes, we can expect head coach Scott Brooks to go with something similar to last year. The starters will play similar minutes to last season. Maybe Perkins will see his minutes cut as he struggles with an injury now and to start the regular season and that small ball is more common with the Thunder and the league in general now.
Harden could be due to see a slight bump in minutes but it will be nothing major. Collison should remain around the same with 20 minutes per night.
Backup center Nazr Mohammed averaged just under seven minutes per game last season. This is where Aldrich will fit in. There is a chance that as the season goes on and if Aldrich is underperforming, the Thunder may go with smaller units off the bench limiting Aldrich and choosing Jones instead.
Cook and Jones have been both called Durant’s backups so far. Cook averaged 17.4 minutes per game last season and that number will likely go down with Jones’ presence. So that’s about 24 minutes to split between Aldrich, Cook and Jones. By season’s end, don’t be surprised if Jones is getting the majority of those.
Brooks has also said that the backup point guard role will be split between Jackson and Maynor. We’ve seen Jackson get more run in the preseason but Maynor is coming off an injury. Maynor should win the job but Jackson will still play more than most third string point guards. Last year, Derek Fisher averaged 20.4 minutes per game in 20 games with OKC as their backup point. Maybe Maynor gets 15 per game and Jackson five.
The Thunder will play their next preseason game tonight at 8 p.m. EST at home vs. the Denver Nuggets.